"Killer in Drag" and "Death of a Transvestite"

The hopelessly inept transvestite filmmaker was also, it turns out, a hopelessly inept transvestite novelist.

Published June 22, 1999 4:00PM (EDT)

As a filmmaker, Edward D. Wood Jr. was the ultimate auteur, stamping his work with a signature idiocy that resists even camp appreciation. As if to prove his talents were far too hideous to be contained by the movies, two pulp novels Wood wrote in the mid-'60s are now being reissued with every typo and malapropism intact. The rotten books are actually more fun than the rotten movies, in the same way that a paper cut is more fun than poison ivy.

In "Killer in Drag," Glen Marker is the top transvestite hired killer in New York. He wants to ditch his life of crime, get a sex-change operation and live permanently as his gorgeous alter ego, Glenda Satin. (Note: The schlub portrayed by Wood in his ridiculous cinematic work "Glen or Glenda" has only the name and nylons in common with the novel's hard-boiled hero.) Glen finds himself hunted by both the police and the mob, so he goes on the lam and winds up in a small Colorado town, where he buys a decrepit carnival and finds love with the town whore. But his Ferris wheel falls over and kills a few people, forcing him to hit the road again. In the sequel, "Death of a Transvestite," Glen makes it to Los Angeles and bonds with another hooker, while the beaky, jealous Paul/Pauline, a rival drag killer, chases Glen/Glenda down. In the middle of a hippie riot on the Sunset Strip, Pauline and Glenda shoot it out. Glenda wins the battle but gets the electric chair.

Why does the mob have a roster of transvestite hit men? Who cares? Not Wood. He writes like Jim Thompson if Jim Thompson were a lobotomized monkey on angel dust, and what he does care about, mostly, is angora sweaters and satin panties and what they do for Glen and his girlfriends. Early on, Glen, as Glenda, gets into his car and is distracted by his own angora-covered falsies: "She squeezed harder -- then harder -- she rubbed it -- the sensation overwhelmed her -- She sighed aloud -- 'Oh what matter -- there are more panties in the glove compartment.'" Wood informs us pedantically that "when Glen talks of Glenda he speaks of her in second person"; he means third, but who's counting? Here's Glenda musing as she squashes a black widow: "She was ready to meet the outside world again. A hostile world, with dark passages concealing things and elements of the shadows and unseen dangers  The spider had been the first thing Glen/Glenda had killed since leaving the Syndicate. But death followed him like the deep shadow of disaster it was." One of the love-struck whores eventually gets tied up nude and pitched into the East River; after a last flashback, she inhales the waters of the Hudson. Oh what matter, there are more panties in the glove compartment.

Ominously, the press material alerts us that Wood wrote at least 20 more of these things. The same publisher has also issued another Wood document from the '60s, the previously unpublished "Hollywood Rat Race," in which the would-be industry player regales aspiring starlets with anecdotes about how much persistence and luck it takes to make it big in the movies. As if he knew. After you surf Wood's stream of inanity in these books, Johnny Depp's portrayal of the director in "Ed Wood," the 1994 Tim Burton film -- flashing scores of tiny teeth in a wacked-out grin as he plunges ahead, reason and second takes be damned -- doesn't seem at all exaggerated.

By Greg Villepique

Greg Villepique plays guitar in the band Aerial Love Feed.

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